Who was Lluís Espinal?
It is the late 1970s, and we find ourselves in Bolivia, a marvelous country located in the geographical heart of South America. It possesses great human resources and material wealth, but these are subject to the interests of foreign corporations and national elites, leaving most of the country impoverished and the scene of continuous military coups and insurgencies. Meanwhile, the Church still operates in the style of medieval Christendom, issuing bland blessings rather than prophetic pronouncements. The recent bishops’ meeting at Medellín is only now beginning to open people’s eyes again to the need to make the Gospel message a truly lived reality.
It was in this typically Latin American context that Lluis Espinal spent the best years of his life, and it was there he died.
Lluis was born in 1932 in the Catalonian town of Sant Fruitós de Bages, near Manresa, and he entered the Society of Jesus in 1949. After finishing his priestly formation, he studied journalism and broadcasting in Bergamo, Italy. He worked for two years in television and film criticism in Barcelona and then in 1968 went as a missionary to Bolivia, where he lived until his death twelve years later. He became a Bolivian citizen in 1970 and devoted himself to journalism and film criticism on TV and radio. He collaborated with Radio Fides of La Paz, especially the programs, “The Daily Presence” and “The Last Minute." As part of the Ukamau film group, he produced several short films for Bolivian television; he wrote ten books on film; he was professor of social media at the University of San Andrés and at La Paz Catholic University; and starting in 1979, he ran the weekly journal "Here." On March 21, 1980, he was abducted at midnight and subsequently tortured and murdered by a paramilitary group. Three days later Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated in San Salvador.
Lluis Espinal was a man endowed with a special artistic and poetic sensibility (as a student he had discovered and translated the poems of the English Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins). He was not just a media expert but tried to place the media at the service of Bolivian people, especially those without hope and without voice. Having experienced firsthand the suffering in Spain under the Franco dictatorship in Spain, Lluis possessed a personal integrity and a sense of justice made him a prophet of freedom and hope.
Lluis placed himself at the well-defined crossroads between death and life, between the death-dealing idols of power and the people's right to abundance of life. Choosing life and the God of life, Lluis worked hard to exorcise the gods of death and to strengthen the people’s faith in life. And he did so with such radicality and consistency that he ended up giving his life for the people in an existential gesture that authenticated the sincerity of his words.
To lay out our life
Prayer by Lluís Espinal sj.
Jesus Christ said: “Those who want to economize their life will lose it;
And those who lay it out for Me, will recover it in the live everlasting”.
But we are scared of laying out our life, to give it up without hesitation.
A dreadful preservation instinct takes us to selfishness,
And hooks us when we want to put our life forward.
We have insurances everywhere, to avoid risks.
But above all, there is fearfulness…
Lord Jesus Christ, we are afraid of laying out our life
But You have given us life to lay it out;
We cannot economize it in barren selfishness.
To lay out our life is to work for others.
Even thou they will not pay us back,
do a favour to those who cannot help you.
To lay out our life is throw oneself to failure,
and if necessary without fake moderations.
It is to give up the lifeboats for the good of our neighbours.
We are torches that gain meaning when kindled,
only then we are light.
Free us from fearful moderation,
The one that make us to avoid sacrifice and seek security.
To lay out our life is not done through empty gestures and fake theatrics.
Life is simply given, no commercials, like water from the creek,
Like the mother who breastfeed her child, like the humble sweat of the sower.
Prepare us, Lord, to launch ourselves to the impossible, because behind the impossible
is your grace and your presence; we cannot fall into the abyss.
The future is a mystery, our path is going through a foggy road,
but we want continue giving ourselves, since you are waiting for us
in the night with a thousand eyes full of tears.